Skip to content

Kent County’s Immigration Focus group has little immigrant involvement, no transparency: Who are they accountable to?

April 9, 2019

When Movimiento Cosehca GR and GR Rapid Response was pressuring Kent County Commissioners and the Sheriff’s Department to end the contract with ICE, the best we could get out of some commissioners was that they would set up a “focus group” to look into the concerns of immigrant.

Of course, this had little to do with the demand to end the contract that ICE had with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. First, calling for an immigrant “focus group” was dismissive of the evidence that was provided from the two groups demanding the end of the contract, which included testimony from the affected community.

Second, holding an immigration “focus group” is significantly broader focus than the demand to end the contract, which specifically impacted the undocumented immigrant community. Some members of the Kent County Commission kept saying that they wanted to invite people from the immigrant community to sit down and have a conversation with the Sheriff’s Department, so that they could build trust. Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE kept saying that those most impacted by current ICE practices live in fear of law enforcement and would not likely meet with law enforcement, especially since local law enforcement has been cooperative with ICE arrests and detentions in Kent County.

The other issue with the immigration focus group is the lack of transparency. When people attending a Kent County Commission meeting in January, we heard that they planned to begin meeting. I have yet to find anything online about the meetings, who is attending and what topics are being discussed.

I wrote to the Kent County Commissioner who represents my district, Stephen Wooden, and he responded by saying that he is happy to look into it. He also shared video from the March 28, Kent County Commission meeting and towards then end Commissioner Sparks did mention that the group has meet once.

Commissioner Sparks stated that those in attendance besides herself, were the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, Comm. Talen, Comm. Womack, Commissioner Antor, the County Administrator, someone from the County’s communication staff and members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Comm. Sparks stated, they had “a very inspirational meeting,” that it was a great discussion and “very positive.”

This was not much of a report back, it doesn’t inspire confidence in the county commission and it says that a conversation about immigration was mostly attended by people not from the immigrant community and not likely someone from the undocumented community, since the only non-governmental voices were from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The Hispanic Chamber of commerce is not exactly representative of the immigrant community (check out who sits on their board), especially those who live in fear of ICE and law enforcement. 

In many ways this immigration focus group is what many of us expected and it has relatively nothing to do with what Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE had confronted the County Commission on since last June.

Independent report says GRPD doesn’t need more cops, but more efficiency

April 9, 2019

A Chicago-based firm Hillard-Heintze, LLC, presented their findings at the Grand Rapids City Commission Tuesday morning. Hillard-Heintze, LLC, was hired by the city to provided an assessment of whether or not the GRPD needed to hire more officers, which the department has been arguing for years. The report cost taxpayers just short of $100,000.

According to their website

Hillard Heintze is one of the leading security risk management firms in the world. We are trusted around the globe to deliver innovative, prevention-oriented advisory solutions that help our clients improve performance and outcomes in protecting what matters: their people, performance, interests and reputation. Since our inception in 2004, more than 85 Fortune-ranked enterprises, 150 of the world’s most affluent families and 500 U.S. and international brands have gained insight, assurance and confidence through our services – and are better managing security risk.

The CEO and co-founder, Arnette Heintze, has decades of experience in law enforcement and used to work for the US Secret Service as security details for George & Barbara Bush and Bill & Hillary Clinton.

If one spends any time on Hillard Heintze’s website, you can clearly see that they are a pro-law enforcement agency that has a great deal of respect for police and other security agents. They have a blog, which shares regular insights and opinions about law enforcement, such as their recent piece entitled, 5 Major Law Enforcement Trends That Will Shape 2019.

The Report produced by Hillard Heintze can be viewed within the April 9, GR City Commission meeting of the Whole document, linked here. The report begins on page 53 and runs through page 110.

According to the firm of Hillard Heintze, they were contracted to review and assess the following.

  • Current operational, administrative and investigative components to ensure alignment, efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Current civilian staffing assignments, including classifications for appropriate personnel allocation, excluding dispatch assignments.
  • Current patrol assignments for appropriate staffing levels as based on relevant computer-aided dispatch (CAD) data and other organizational priorities.
  • Current policies and practices regarding employee stress, fatigue, overtime and succession planning.

In the letter that the CEO of Hillard Heintze LLC sent to acting Chief David Kiddle, Heintze states:

The GRPD is at an important juncture as your City continues its search for a new Chief. The budget and staffing decisions of the past continue to impact the department’s ongoing success, particularly as it seeks to address succession planning and effective allocation of resources. Our analysis has found that while sworn staffing is sufficient to meet current demand, limited administrative support and the absence of usable of data to direct resource allocation contributes to the pressures felt by officers and managers within the GRPD. Our observations and analysis identify that providing more support through increased administrative staffing will allow officers to engage in the proactive policing activities.

In many ways the report is tedious, with lots of details about work schedules and operational practices. However, the report does provide some very useful information about what the GRPD spends most of their time on.

The report states that, “most calls are not for emergency police services, such as immediate physical danger, but rather are service oriented. Seventy percent of calls for service in 2018 were categorized as “low priority.” For example, the most common calls for service included 4,982 for property damage-only traffic crashes and 4,050 calls for burglar alarms, most of which are false. On average, officers spend almost an hour on scene resolving calls for service, so a significant amount of patrol time is spent addressing non-emergency calls. This evolving demand for a variety of services from law enforcement is a trend that we see nationally, and many communities continue to struggle with identifying what, when and how they want police services delivered. This is of concern for many municipalities as police budgets are often the largest component of municipal expenditures.”

You can also see from graphic, the numerical breakdown of why people are calling the GRPD.

Based on this data, most of the calls the GRPD receives are non-emergency and low priority calls, often responding to traffic accidents and burglar alarms. The report recommends that more civilian staff could take care of more of the non-emergency calls to allow the GRPD officers to attend to other matters.

The Grand Rapids Police union has already responded to the report and has expressed frustration with the city officials who have already made the study public. This response from the police union is not surprising, considering that they have been antagonistic towards city officials in recent years over growing concerns and demands from the community over police brutality, specifically in communities of color.

The report does provide a list of recommendations on the last two pages of the report. Those recommendations are primarily organizational in focus and less on procedure.

While this report provides some useful information and data on the GRPD, it doesn’t address more pressing issues such as:

  • How much of the City’s budget is consumed by the GRPD
  • Recent examples of Police brutality, specifically within black and latino/latinx neighborhoods
  • GRPD cooperation with Immigration Customs & Enforcement (ICE)

DeVos Family infographic #1

April 8, 2019

The infographic we provide here is based upon our documentation of the DeVos Family’s collective political contributions over the years, the 990 documents from the various family foundations and the state policies that have been passed by politicians that the DeVos Family has funded.

You can find all of this documented in our 460 page downloadable document, The DeVos Family Reader. For additional sources, please check out the Michigan Campaign Finance Network for election contributions from the DeVos Family or Guidestar for investigating the various DeVos Family Foundations and who they have contributed to. 



The Immigrant Justice Movement in Grand Rapids Part I

April 7, 2019

(Editor’s note: I am currently working on a book, tentatively entitled, A People’s History of Grand Rapids, which is related to this article.)

I have been in Grand Rapids since 1982. During the past 37 years I have been involved in a variety of activist work and organizing efforts. However, it is important to state up front that activism is often not organizing work.

One thing that differentiates organizing from activism is that, activism is often done singularly and rarely does it have a larger goal. Organizing, on the other hand, is well thought out, with tactics, strategies and goals, especially when it is part of a larger social movement.

Activism can be part of organizing work, but activism by itself is insufficient for the long term goals of social movements. People can be motivated by a singular event or moment in history, like the moment last June when people became aware that the US government was detaining and separating immigrant families just inside the US border. People were outraged when they saw children in cages, and rightfully so. People maybe signed an online petition, donated to a group or attended a rally calling for the end of immigrant family separation.

However, many people didn’t know what to do to sustain their anger and eventually lost interest in what was happening or did not seek out organizations or movements that were addressing the issue of immigrant family separation. 

I have participated in several social movements in the Grand Rapids area since the early 1980s, including the Central American Solidarity Movement, the Sanctuary Movement, the Disarmament Movement, the Anti-Globalization Movement, the Anti-Iraq War/Occupation Movement and the Food Justice Movement. I have learned a great deal from the people in those movement and it is what has inspired me to want to write A People’s History of Grand Rapids.

Immigrant Justice Movement

The roots of the current immigrant justice movement really began in 2005. Wisconsin Representative Sensenbrenner had introduced a bill, the the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. This bill would criminalize undocumented immigrants and even punish those who offered them any assistance. The proposed bill mobilized people all across the US, including in Grand Rapids.

There were meetings that were being held at the Burton Heights United Methodist Church (which has since been demolished), with 200 – 400 people coming to each meeting over the next several months to discuss what actions to take. In conjunction with a national effort, it was decided by the immigrant community to turn out in large numbers in opposition to the Sensenbrenner bill.

On March 26th, 2006 an estimate 10,000 people marched in Grand Rapids from Garfield Park to downtown Grand Rapids to protest the anti-immigration legislation. Some observers say that this was one of the largest marches in the history of the city, if not the largest. What is more important is that this march was made up of mostly people from the immigrant and undocumented community.

I was at that march in 2006 and wrote about it for an indymedia blog called Media Mouse. The story I wrote at the time, along with how the Grand Rapids Press covered it, is documented in a post on the Grand Rapids People’s History Project site.

There was another action organized as a follow up to this march, which took place on May 1st of 2006. This action also took place at Garfield Park, but it was much smaller, did not involve a march, but was being called Un Dia Sin Imigrantes – A Day Without Immigrants, which I also wrote about for Media Mouse. Unfortunately, after the May Day action, the moment was gone and organizers did not capitalize on the energy and numbers of those who took over the streets 5 weeks earlier.

There were still some meetings that were being organized, but primarily by those in the non-profit sector, religious people and immigration lawyers. These meetings took place primarily at the Hispanic Center and focused on policy rather than organizing the affected community.

By 2007, people began to rally around the idea of Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 and the 2008 Presidential Elections. There was a big push within the immigrant community to register people to vote. When it was clear that Barack Obama was going to get the Democratic nomination and if elected, he would make Comprehensive Immigration Reform a priority, which motivated a lot of people.

Barack Obama did become the President and promised to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform within the first 100 days. This however, did not happen and in fact, it never happened during the 8 years he was in office.

Many people in the immigrant community were disappointed by this outcome and many became disillusioned by electoral politics, especially when the Obama administration escalated the war against the undocumented community, deporting an estimated 3 million during those eight years.

A group that came together during the time, called the West Michigan Coalition for Immigration Reform, began to meet monthly. One of their main goals was to get Comprehensive Immigration Reform passed in Congress. They held a Press Conference in early September of 2009, to kickoff a new campaign to push politicians to embrace Comprehensive Immigration Reform. 

The month before, GRIID agreed to conduct a series of interviews from people directly impacted from ICE raids and arrests or those who worked with people impacted, such as lawyers and social workers. Here is one of those interviews with an ALCU lawyer who shared her research on detention center across the US.

A week after their September Press Conference, the West Michigan Coalition for Immigration Reform held a public forum to kickoff their campaign to get Comprehensive Immigration Reform passed and in the minds of millions of Americans. The forum was held at GVSU’s downtown campus and co-sponsored by the Latin American Studies Department. The following month there was another rally held at Garfield Park, just prior to people traveling to DC to lobby Congress on Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

There was limited activity for a few years, until the 2012 Presidential Election, when the argument was made that “people needed to re-elect President Obama in order to achieve Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” However, at the same time there was increased ICE activity in West Michigan and more and more people were being arrested, detained and deported. At the monthly meetings of the West Michigan Coalition for Immigration Reform we kept hearing of arrests, raids and the growing fear that the immigrant community was feeling. There was even an attempt to create a Rapid Response to ICE project, but for a variety of reasons it never got off the ground.

However, in late 2012, there was also dissatisfaction with what was happening at the national level. In November of 2012, about 250 people went to Lansing to demand immigrant rights and Drivers Licenses for All

In December of 2012, over 200 people showed up at a Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, mostly those from the immigrant community. Again, those who spoke were demanding that the city support their effort to get Drivers Licenses for the undocumented community.  A Latino pastor addressed the Grand Rapids City Commission with a passionate plea for Drivers Licenses for All.

Young immigrants were especially disillusioned at this time and began organizing efforts to gain protections for themselves, which eventually lead to the Dream Act. Young immigrants were showing up all over the country whenever President Obama was scheduled to speak. They engaged in action that were disruptive and directly called out the President on his failure to push legislation that would be beneficial to undocumented immigrants.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform was eventually voted on in 2013, but it narrowly lost and there hasn’t been any attempt since then to get something like it passed.

However, there was a valuable lesson learned by these young immigrant organizers. They learned that putting their hopes into an electoral campaign was useless, unless there was a social movement that was organized by those who were most vulnerable to arrest, detention and deportation.

It was in 2014-2015, that immigrant organizers met to discuss and strategize around the importance of creating an immigrant-led movement that was calling for immigrant justice.

In Part II of this article, we will look at what has happened in Grand Rapids around immigrant justice, since Donald Trump was elected in November of 2016 and up until the present.

Acton Institute reports on Trump visit to Grand Rapids: Says Detroit and Flint should be like Grand Rapids

April 4, 2019

The March 28 visit to Grand Rapids by President Donald Trump generated a great deal of local and national attention. Some articles focused on the protest that greeted Trump and his supporters outside, while other journalists wrote about what was said inside the Van Andel arena.

Trump’s visit even received a blog post from the Grand Rapids-based far right think tank, the Acton Institute.

In a blog post from last week, Acton research fellow Dylan Pahman chose to focus on one specific thing that Trump said during his visit to Grand Rapids. The headline from Pahman’s article read, President Trump visits Grand Rapids, promises to turn it into Detroit. 

It is an interesting topic to focus on, especially since there were so many other things that Trump has to say. However, if you spend any time on the Acton Institute blog, you realize that their writers go out of their way to focus primarily on the wonders of the free market, topped off with some theological justifications for the virtues of capitalism.

Pahman brings up the fact that Trump said that the auto industry is coming back, and then talks about the difference between Detroit and Grand Rapids.

We haven’t put all of our eggs in the basket of the auto industry, that’s why. For one thing, while there has been and still is auto manufacturing in the Grand Rapids area, we were once Furniture City, USA and are now proudly Beer City, USA. Grand Rapids can — and does — boast a dynamic, diversified economy.

There is a great deal to unpack in this statement, so lets begin by saying that the Acton Institute writer leaves out a whole lot of history.

First, Pahman leaves out a decades long history of the Big Three automakers constant attack of organized labor, an attack that is well documented in the book, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, A Study in Urban Revolution. Another dynamic well documented in Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, is the long-standing structural racism in Detroit that was exposed in the 1967 uprising and the massive white flight (people and investment) that ensued. Since the 1970s, Detroit has been struggling, in part because of the de-industrialization of the mid-west, but also because of the ongoing war being waged against the black community. These dynamics are well documented in the book, The Fifty-Year Rebellion: How the US Political Crisis Began in Detroit.

However, the Acton writer wants to simplify Detroit’s problems around the protectionist policies applied to the auto industry. Pahman completely ignores the fact that White Supremacy and Neoliberal economic policies, including harsh austerity measures has devastated Detroit, particularly black Detroit.

Second, when Pahman says that Grand Rapids went from Furniture City to Beer City, he also ignores the complexities of what has happened over the past century. The Acton writer ignores the exploitative practices of the furniture barons, which gained national attention during the 1911 furniture workers strike. In fact, the capitalist class in Grand Rapids was so freaked out by the 1911 strike that they changed the City Charter, making Grand Rapids go from a 12 ward city to a three ward city, which allowed for the capitalist class to consolidate their control over the political and economic climate. 

Third, the Acton writer also ignores the White Supremacy that has plagued Grand Rapids since the 1920s, a dynamic that is well documented in Todd Robinson’s book, A City Within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Robinson argues that Grand Rapids adopt a form of “managerial racism” that was a more subtle and covert form of White Supremacy.

Fourth, while Grand Rapids did not experience the same level of de-industrialization that Detroit did, the wealth was, and continues to be, concentrated in the white community. In fact, Grand Rapids has the largest wealth gap in the entire state, based on a 2016 study. Economic development has primarily benefited the white community, with massive subsidies and other financial incites offered to developers from the City of Grand Rapids and the State of Michigan. This fact flies in the face of what the Acton writer claims about the market freedoms practiced in Grand Rapids, compared to Detroit.

Fifth, the Acton writer then quotes Experience Grand Rapids, which is nothing more than an entity that promotes the city through a Neoliberal economic lens. Here is what Pahman cities from Experience GR:

West Michigan’s global manufacturers supply customers with everything from circuit boards and medical devices, to personal care products, to bullet-proof composites for military and industrial vehicles, to smart rearview mirrors that automatically control a vehicle’s high beam headlights. Grand Rapids’ thriving craft beer industry has even driven manufacturing innovation, with one small startup designing and manufacturing a tool that allows breweries and cideries to can their own beverages for carry out directly from their taproom bars.

While these industries are thriving, they primarily benefit white people and those who are already economically well off. What Experience GR and the Acton Institute do not acknowledge is the profound realities of White Supremacy in Grand Rapids, which is profoundly reflected in the gentrification taking place in numerous parts of the city, coupled with the disproportionately high levels of poverty in the black and latino/latinx communities.

The Acton writer ends his piece with another criticism of Trump by saying:

Rather than promising to turn Grand Rapids into Detroit, the president would do better to encourage Detroit, Flint, and other former auto manufacturing centers in Michigan to reinvent themselves and adapt like we’ve done here.

What the Acton Institute writer is essentially saying is that what Detroit and Flint should do is adopt economic and social policies that benefit white people over communities of color. In fact, this is exactly what Detroit did. The major difference is that there has been more militant resistance from the black community in Detroit and more managerial racism in Grand Rapids. Both cities experience structural racism, its just that Grand Rapids hides it better.

Proposed Michigan Legislation would prevent local governments from passing ordinances limiting cooperation with ICE: Bill Sponsors have financial backing from the DeVos Family

April 3, 2019

This morning, MLive posted an article about two bill in the Michigan House of Representatives that would prevent local communities from limiting their cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

According to MLive:

The bills (HB 4083 and HB 4090) are sponsored by Republican Reps. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, and Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Twp., and are scheduled to be discussed in the House Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee – which LaFave chairs – at noon Tuesday, April 9. Previous versions of the legislation cleared a House panel last session but did not get taken up for a vote by the full House.

A useful summary of the two bills are provided by the House Fiscal Agency:

If passed, these bills would undermine local government autonomy and prevent actions taken like the recent Grand Rapids City Commission to suspend Captain VanderKooi for calling ICE while off duty to alert them to the incident involving Jilmar Ramos-Gomez.

The Grand Rapids based groups, Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response was instrumental in pressuring the City of Grand Rapids on Captain VanderKooi, although they were demanding he be fired. These two groups were also demanding that the City of Grand Rapids end all cooperation with ICE, not allow any city resources to be used for cooperation with ICE and support the Drivers Licenses for All campaign.

House Bill 4083 was introduced by Rep. Pamela Hornberger from the 32nd District and House Bill 4090 was introduced by Rep. Beau LaFave from the 108th District. According to data provided by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the DeVos Family is the top contributor to Rep. Hornberger’s campaign ($14,000) and the fourth largest contributor to Rep. LaFave’s campaign ($9,000).

The Language of Capitalism in Grand Rapids: Part II – Stakeholders

April 2, 2019

Last week we kicked off a new series of articles that will look at how the economic system has transformed and co-opted language to the benefit of the capitalist class.

We mentioned the new book, Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism, by John Patrick Leary, which provides a wonderful analysis of capitalism’s use of language, along with a list of words that this system uses.

Just think about the terms that capitalism has created or transformed in recent years to give it an edgy, almost counter-cultural feeling. Words like place making, robust, stakeholder, thought leader, creative class, human capital, curator, best practices and empowerment. All of these words used to mean something else, but now they are used by the capitalist class as the language that best describes what it is they seek to achieve.

Last week we looked at the term accountability in Grand Rapids. This week, lets talk about the word stakeholder, and specifically how it is used by the capitalist class here in Grand Rapids.

Leary says, “Stakeholder’s primary meaning in the OED is an independent person or organization with whom money is deposited, especially when a number of people make a bet or other financial transaction.”

Clearly, the term stakeholder is rooted in the financial world. The author notes that the word stakeholder transition during the 1930s depression, “when calls for economic planning and socialism reached a high point.”

The more contemporary way in which the term stakeholder is being used, combines the financial meaning, with the idea of planning. In Grand Rapids, I have noticed that since the 1980s, the term stakeholder is most often used by systems and structures of power to give the illusion that anyone who is a stakeholder can have a seat at the table. What this often translates to, is that those who are invited are primarily those from the business community, government officials and representatives of non-profit organizations. The “public” might be invited as well, but as we all know when the business community is invites, they take up a lot of space at meetings and they tend to have more power in conversations around issues like economic development.

The stakeholder dynamic is further explored in an article from If The River Swells, which states: 

When speaking of development or gentrification in Grand Rapids, a constant refrain heard from city leaders, developers, and even many opponents is the need for more “community involvement” or “community engagement.” Development is presented as if it is a dialog or a process in which we are all on equal footing, rather than something done by those with considerable capital and political power. The appeals for participation are repeated over and over: the city and developers allegedly want to hear from the “community”, while always looking for more ways to get people involved.

However, what is actually being encouraged is a very specific and narrow form of “involvement” that centers around the process of attending city meetings, meetings with developers, and other such similar events. It’s presented as a type of civic duty akin to voting – if you don’t do it, you don’t have a right to complain. A sort of hyper-local version of “America, Love It or Leave It.” Often when these conversations happen, they involve a considerable amount of blame being placed on those who are critical. The assumption is always that they have chosen “not to be involved” and that because they allegedly aren’t participating their voices aren’t being heard, and therefore, their concerns aren’t being addressed. It’s a charge that has been leveled at us repeatedly over the past year: that if we participated in the allegedly “important meetings” that are happening, “our voice would be heard”.

Of course, our voices, the community’s voices are rarely heard. Instead, those in the capitalist class love to hold public meetings to gain input, even thought the real decisions are being made by those who have the most money (which also means the most power), which are developers. In this sense, using the term stakeholder is merely meant to lull the public into thinking that their voice matters and to present the illusion that private economic development companies want community engagement. In the end, economic development corporations make the decision, not matter who else is “at the table.”

There are numerous examples of entities that use the term stakeholder, but this week’s example of how capitalism uses the term stakeholder is the Rockford Construction Company.